There’s a group of ferrets carrying something particularly nasty in a Centers for Disease Control lab.
That’s where CDC researchers innoculated the animals with both the rare but deadly avian influenza strain and Swine Flu, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The idea is to determine whether the H1N1 influenza virus — the Swine Flu — is capable of re-assorting, or combining with another strain like the H5N1 avian virus.
Other studies in ferrets have shown that the odds are slim that the Swine Flu will re-assort, but influenza has an infamous proclivity for both genetic mutation and re-assortment with other variants.
So if the strains CDC researchers gave the ferrets combine, it could create a hybrid with the virulence of the avian strain (which has killed nearly 60 percent of its 440 known victims worldwide) and the communicability of the Swine Flu.
Or it could create a dud that couldn’t even get a ferret sick.
Michael Shaw, associate director for laboratory science for CDC’s influenza division, told the Journal virus faces two obstacles. One is creating viable virus through reassortment, Shaw said, and the other is making a viable virus that can spread.
“Viability is one thing,” he said. “Whether it’s easily transmissible is another.”
“It would be difficult for [Swine Flu] to acquire some of those known virulence markers,” added influenza division chief Nancy Cox.
Researchers are still awaiting the results of the experiment with Swine and avian flu strains. Although the possibility of hatching a virulent and deadly new virus may be remote, we don’t know what to expect from the fast-approaching flu season.
“Influenza is really unpredictable,” Cox told the Journal.